9 recasting sexuality in a positive light Currently, many development programmes – and especially those targeting young women – cast sex and sexuality in a negative light: they are associated with disease, risk and deviance. If young people are given any information about sex or sexuality education, it is usually framed as a health issue alone, and if they are told anything, it is about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and very little else. To support girls and young women, and to ensure that their sexual and reproduction outcomes are the result of their own choices throughout their lives, policy-makers and practitioners must address sex and sexuality as positive aspects of life that are linked to many other areas of individual development. Denial that people under 18 may have sexual experiences, and reluctance to address sex and reproduction as important parts of being human, obstruct efforts to support young people in their daily lives and to prepare them for future roles and relationships. Efforts that overly ‘protect’ young women (such as constant supervision and chaperoning, marrying them off as children and making other choices about their lives) limit their opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills they need to build fulfilling relationships that are based on equality and trust, to independently recognize and minimize potential risks, and to preserve their health and well-being, to achieve high levels of education, and participate meaningfully in the labour force and in public life.20 In both developed and developing countries, taboos around young women’s sexual behaviour, particularly outside marriage, make them feel that their sexual feelings and acts are wrong.21 Stigma and discrimination (commonly based on age and marital status) prevent girls and young women from asking questions about sex and discussing it with their partner, their parents, their health provider or teachers, from obtaining contraception and accessing sexual and reproductive health services.
However, when circumstances are right and individuals are prepared, sexual initiation can represent “a process of increasing awareness and appreciation of one’s body, consolidation of personal and sexual identity, the establishment of mature intimate relationships with others, and the development of negotiation skills.”22 Positive approaches to girls' and women’s sexual and reproductive lives are important for individual development, and are mediating factors that contribute to wider development goals.
Key actions for policy-makers ´´Expand programmes that reflect a positive approach to girls’ and young women’s sexual and reproductive lives and invest in monitoring and evaluation ´´Acknowledge and raise awareness that sexuality is a positive aspect of life, and recognize its significance in individual and social development ´´Remove punitive policies that reinforce stigma of girls’ and young women’s sexuality, especially those that criminalize girls’ and young women’s sexuality
Sex and sexuality are central to many aspects of human development, including HIV and AIDS, tackling sexual violence and supporting fulfilling relationships.23 Susan Jolly, Institute of Development Studies
Published on May 8, 2012